Less Than Zero: ABC Drama Bows to Record Low Ratings

Zero Hour premieres to a 1.4 in the haunted Thursday night time slot

ABC’s Thursday 8 p.m. time slot continues to be a dead spot in the network’s prime-time lineup, as the new drama series Zero Hour premiered to record low ratings.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Zero Hour bowed to 6.38 million viewers and a 1.4 rating in the 18-49 demo, marking ABC’s all-time lowest in-season scripted series debut. But such is the state of broadcast television that Zero Hour’s premiere stands as only the third-worst showing among the Big Four’s 23 new scripted efforts. Season to date, CBS’ Made in Jersey (1.1) and NBC’s Do No Harm (0.9) have put up tinier demos—and both shows were canceled after two episodes.

(After the preliminary ratings were adjusted up one-tenth of a point, Zero Hour tied Animal Practice for the third-lowest premiere demo of 2012-13.)

Zero Hour follows on the heels of the male-targeted military thriller Last Resort, which on Sept. 27 bowed to a so-so 9.31 million viewers and a 2.2 in the demo. ABC canceled the Andre Braugher vehicle on Nov. 16, burning off the remaining six episodes in the show’s regular time slot.

The Thursday night lead-off slot has been haunted by a string of high-profile failures, including last season’s Charlie’s Angels reboot, the 2010-11 flop My Generation and the high-concept series Flash Forward, which fizzled fast after premiering to a sturdy 4.0 in the demo. Still, the deliveries for Zero Hour were particularly discouraging, as they represent a 41 percent decline from Last Resort’s series opener and a 38 percent drop when compared to Charlie’s Angels’ 2.1 rating.

My Generation arrived on Sept. 23, 2010, in front of 5.22 million viewers and a 1.6 rating before going on to deliver an unsustainable 4.14 million viewers and a 1.1 the following week. It was canceled the following morning, and the remaining half-dozen episodes were shuttled to ABC.com.

The last ABC show to move the needle in the Thursday night slot was Ugly Betty.

It’s worth noting that HUT levels were down 6 percent across the board, as many viewers were apparently too caught up in celebrating Valentine’s Day to watch their allotment of network television.

ABC wasn’t the only network to take a hit last night, as Fox’s American Idol fell to a season-low 3.7 in the demo, while lead-out Glee dropped 23 percent from last week’s 2.2 to a 1.7. And after a relatively robust season premiere, NBC’s Community plummeted 37 percent to a 1.2 in the dollar demo, effectively silencing rumors that the show was on track for a renewal.

Even the colossus that is CBS’ The Big Bang Theory endured a tiny dose of heartache, falling 13 percent to a 5.4 in the 18-49 demo. That said, it’s not as if that result will send CBS ad sales execs reeling. The network once again handily won the night, averaging 14.4 million viewers and a 3.7 rating. CBS’ closest competitor was Fox, which drew 8.86 million viewers and a 2.7 with its two hours of prime-time programming.

To say that this has been an annus horribilis for broadcasters is to traffic in farcical understatement. To date, nine of the 27 new scripted series launched by the Big Four and the CW have been canceled and only three of the survivors (NBC’s Revolution, Fox’s The Following and CBS’ Elementary) have put up at least a 2.0 in the demo in their most recent air dates.

Through the first 20 weeks of the 2012-13 campaign, the Super Bowl-powered CBS is leading the pack in total reach and the 18-49 demo, averaging 12.7 million viewers and a 3.2 (up 3 percent). After being up as much as 27 percent in the demo, the Sunday Night Football– and Voice-free NBC is now down 8 percent with a 2.7, while Fox is down 24 percent (2.5) and ABC is down 8 percent with a 2.2.

Only a handful of new series remain in the network pipeline, including the CW’s Cult (Feb. 19); the Friday night CBS procedural Golden Boy (special preview, Feb. 26); ABC’s Red Widow (March 3), How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) (April 3), Family Tools (May 1) and Mistresses (May, date TBD); and NBC’s Hannibal (April 4). 

Premiere dates for three comedies—Fox’s The Goodwin Games, CBS’ Friend Me and ABC’s Save Me—have yet to be determined.

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